So, the first leg of the Bradby Shield Encounter, the biggest rugby match of the season has been played, lost and won. Speculations surrounding the results were many and equally balanced.
The game though, was not. Although Trinity College and Royal College seemed to be on equal footing, the boys from Kandy managed to conquer on foreign turf with a margin of 12 points. This is no small feat considering the fact that Royal College beat St. Peter's College, the only team Trinity College lost to, the weekend before.
"I never expected Trinity to play like they played that day," exclaims Coach Sanath Martis of St. Peter's College. "The rugby they played was tremendous, it was at club level," he continues, adding that "all 15 players played beyond their level, in terms of skill, fitness and the practical experience they've had as players." He feels that Trinity College will definitely win the Bradby Shield this year, explaining that "if they can win in Colombo – the Royal turf, then winning in Kandy will be simple" adding with a laugh that "Bradby history will show you that it's a difficult thing to beat Kandy in Kandy."
Coach Jivan Goonetilleka of S. Thomas’ College expected the Trinity College team to dominate even the first leg of the Bradby Shield encounter. He adds that although the second leg "feels like a long way away," it is "quite a bic arc to expect the team from Royal College to go all the way to Kandy and overcome the twelve-point margin." Forwards Coach for S. Thomas', Gavin Jayasekara puts it simply when asked whether the first match between the two rugby giants went off the way he had predicted. "Yes, definitely." He also adds that although the Royal College team will "give it all they have" at the second leg on Saturday, June 28 in Kandy, "Trinity College will probably walk away victors with another 10-15 points margin.'
Coach Chang from Wesley College on the other hand, was quite surprised at the outcome of the match. He expected the home team to win, explaining that this did not happen because "Royal College had only one play, and that was in their forwards, whereas the Trinity College team had their basics at a much higher level." Mr. Chang believes that the same fact will give the Trinitians the advantage at the second leg as well.
Referee Dilroy Fernando acknowledges that Trinity College will have the advantage at the second leg, but he is also very clear on the fact that "it all depends on what happens on that day." He holds this view because "no one expected Royal College to beat St. Peter's, but that day they played extremely well and upset St. Peter's." Also he adds that "after all, the Bradby Shield Encounter is not just another game of rugby," as this match inspires the two teams to play unusually well, because the honour and valour at stake is much higher than mere victory or loss.
Ananda Wijeratne, Match Commissioner for the SLRFU, who was firm last week that the match between the two schools could not be predicted due to the aggressiveness of the Bradby Shield Encounter pointed out that "the Royal line leant more towards the forwards, and Bilal Hassan was a bit overworked there," and that this might have been their downfall. The second leg, he believes is going to be an exciting match, because "the Royalists are going to come down hard on the Trinitians." "It all depends on the weather up in Kandy" he adds, noting that although Trinity College has the advantage of being the home team as well as having the spectators on their side, "since Royal College could come up with a surprise performance as they did at the St. Peter's match" the results are still unpredictable.
Sports Commntator Chandrishan Perera, as with Coach Chang, believed that the game was probably at the advantage of the Royalists as they were at home. "But they were surprised by Trinity College, whose basic all-round skill was very good" he says, adding that "that was their secret." Commenting further on the performance of the Trinity College team he says that "they had good balance in their forwards, very good defence, and when they attacked, it was something really, really special."
Speculating on the second leg of the Shield he says that "winning in Colombo was the hardest thing for Trinity College, and now since they're going home for the second leg, it's going to be a tough call for Royal College unless something very, very special happens from them." He adds though, that Royal College catching up with the Trinitians "is not impossible, even with such a big margin, because it has been done before" stressing that "if the boys [from Colombo] really believe in themselves, nothing is impossible."
Trinity College supporter and old boy Barana Waidyatilleka was "confident" they would win, as "Royal College wasn't putting up much of a good show anyway. I'd say it's a 90 percent guarantee that Trinity is going to win," he laughs. Harsha Dissanayake, also an old boy from Trinity College was similarly confident of the way the first leg would be concluded. "The setup of this team is different," he explains, "they are family, and they play as one." He is not keen on predicting the outcome of the second leg of the encounter, explaining that if Trinity College starts off from ground zero, they have a definite chance of winning "but if their attitude is different, the tables could turn."
Past ruggerite for Royal College, Dinesh Rahim expected the team from his alma mater to be the victors on June 14 after noon. Although he was disappointed at the outcome, he is optimistic about the second leg.
"If Royal College plays according to plan, the way they did at the St. Peter's match, I think they can pull (winning the second leg of the encounter) it off," he says, adding that winning the Bradby Shield will be tough. Although, if things go well, who knows!
Shanaka Amarasinghe, old boy of S. Thomas’ College and Sports Reporter for YesFM says he "expected the game to be tighter," expressing his disappointment with the fact that Royal College seemed to "abandon their game plan and try to match their opponents," adding that "they lacked the discipline to go with the plan that worked so well against St. Peters." He feels that Trinity College "executed perfectly," saying "It was lovely to watch a schools side so proficient in running the ball. It's dangerous to make predictions," he says about the second leg of the encounter, adding that "If the Royal College team does what it should be doing, 12 points is certainly not insurmountable."
The well-rounded performance of the Trinity College team has not changed speculations on the second leg of the Bradby Shield encounter much, as the essential fact about that particular game is its unpredictability. Yet it has tipped the balance slightly in terms of the Singer League Championship. St. Peter's College have now lost their chance of retaining the Championship title, leaving Trinity College and Kingswood College who are at the top to battle it out this evening.
Many believe that Trinity College will be victors, but Kingswood College have the advantage of some star players as well as much more experience.
"The champion team needs to have players who are champions within the field and without," says Coach Sanath, "and it is the Trinity College team which has that." This season has been a hard fight, one which Chandrishan Perera describes as "possibly one of the best schools rugby seasons, ever," as after many years, the title decider has been brought to the end of the championship, the last game.